It delves into all sorts of fascinating things surrounding the ‘forces of destiny’ and the power of free will. The author, who I have been privileged enough to meet and chat with, originally worked in the pharmaceutical industry before embarking on writing books and giving talks around the world on his understanding of the links between quantum physics and the mind/body connection.
In the chapter I was reading the other night, he was explaining his understanding of quantum entanglement and how this, he believes, can lead to the experience of coincidence. But by this time I was beginning to drop off to sleep so decided to switch off the light. A few minutes passed and my mind had started to buzz again so I switched on the radio. The programme being broadcast on Radio 4 was The Infinite Monkey Cage with Professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince and they were talking about… quantum entanglement. Now that was a coincidence!
The programme is billed as “award-winning science/comedy chat” according to its podcast page and episodes are available indefinitely here. Any of them are well worth a listen.
The episode I was listening to was entitled “When Quantum Goes Woo,” and it raised some interesting and very funny points of view on the seemingly polar extremes of conventional science/medicine versus, in their words “quackery” meaning alternative ways of healing, the two they made reference to being crystal healing and homeopathy.
The quote from the programme that really got me thinking was “quantum mechanics is a totally outrageous affront to common sense… which is why it attracts all this stuff,” meaning the aforementioned ‘quackery’.
Hang on a minute, so quantum mechanics is a totally outrageous affront to common sense but is ok, and yet the workings of homeopathy (also a totally outrageous affront to common sense) is not?
Here’s the going-round-in-circles bit from my point of view:
I love science. I really do. I love the fact that Einstein could imagine himself sitting on a light beam and coming up with his theory of special relativity; the fact that machines have been developed that enable us to see which bits of our brain fires when we have particular thoughts; the fact that one element combines with another to make something completely different. But I also get a bit frustrated when scientists appear to scoff at stuff they don’t approve of, for whatever reason. But then again I understand why they do – a theory is put on the table and they set out to prove whether it’s right or wrong. And when they have proof, it’s the truth. And until they have proof, it’s not the truth - except in the case of ‘quackery’ which, because it is such an outrageous affront to common sense, is deemed ridiculous, even though that’s how they describe quantum mechanics.
I also love the fact that even though we know so much about science, we really know very little. We are limited to our own understanding at this very time in history even though that understanding is so huge. Flat World view progresses to Spherical World view - the seemingly impossible can be proved real… but only when you know how. And the more we know, the more we realise there is to know.
Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and one of the contributors on this episode said of these ‘quacks’ that they “create a barrier to understanding - it’s to deliberately make themselves unintelligible and difficult to understand in order to make themselves seem better and more powerful than you.”
Which led nicely on to the next wily observation made by Brian Cox: “So I think it’s worth interrogating why we find these people so spectacularly irritating… they’re giving us an incredibly ugly reflection of ourselves which we are adamant that we are not.” A very poignant observation I reckon.
The one person who seemed to consistently speak the most sense on this programme, in my opinion (and yes, I know it’s a science/comedy show and I’m not taking things too seriously) was comedian Sara Pascoe, making reference to the oft quoted research carried out on kittens: when a kitten is exposed only to horizontal bars for the first few months of its life, it loses the ability to see vertical bars and goes and bumps into any vertical bar put in its way. She, I think, was suggesting that the scientists can’t see the point of view of the ‘quacks’ and vice versa.
She went on: “People choose what works for them and that doesn’t mean that you guys don’t set out all of the facts as clearly as you can because that gives people the option all the time, and that’s the fairest and best thing you can do. Do you need to argue with them? Do you guys need to go and stand outside with placards outside [sic] a homeopathic clinic? No!”
There are a number of things that really intrigue me:
- As long as all the information is out there, why should people be ridiculed for choosing something that works for them and they obviously believe in? If they believe in something there is always a quantifiable chance of it being beneficial whether it’s indeed medication, homeopathy, crystals or whatever. And who knows what new techniques and methods may be developed in the future that show how these methods may indeed work. A few years ago, people would have scoffed at the idea that mind-calming techniques such as meditation had a real, quantifiable effect on the brain (that would’ve been seen as 70s hippy woo) and yet, with the development of EEGs, MRIs and other scanning techniques, this is now proven.
- The hold and influence of the pharmaceutical industry is never mentioned on programmes like this, and yet ‘the amount of money that people are willing to pay’ on stuff like alternative medicine always is. The UK pharmaceutical industry in 2013 was worth £2.8 billion (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, 2015). Another way of looking at it is if it wasn’t for pharmaceuticals the country would have gone irredeemably bust a long, long time ago.
- When we look back on medicine and surgical practices in days gone by we often can’t quite believe how crazy and barbaric it actually was. It is, perhaps, a sobering thought that our descendants in 100 years time might just look back on us and wonder how we too could inflict such primitive methods on each other?
- Healing, allopathic medication, the sciences, marketing, alternative medicine, collective views of society, psychology, advertising, mixed up with our own individual beliefs – all are so incredibly wound up in each other, dare I say entangled?! It’s a vast area of understanding – and yet we are continually pushed into a limited and naive argument of ‘scientists versus quacks.’ Right versus wrong. Logical versus illogical. Like everything else in the world, if people could work together and respect each other’s point of view more then perhaps progress would be even quicker instead of people putting barriers up against ‘the opposition’ all the time.
Perhaps I’m too open-minded? Perhaps I’m being naïve? Maybe. But that’s just me. And I’m no expert anyway! I was just thinking out loud J
Check out the programme and the book for yourself. Have an open mind and a sense of humour and the world is a fascinating place!
On the next programme I believe they’re talking about whether we really need plants or not J I'll look forward to that then. I'll I